Hot Coffee, Tort Reform & the Civil Justice System

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Hot Coffee by Flickr user licensed under elycefeliz Creative Commons
 I recently saw a documentary, Hot CoffeeIt discusses the idea of tort reform and bogus lawsuits. When one thinks of frivolous lawsuits, the case of Liebeck v. McDonald’s comes to mind.  Stella Liebeck went to McDonald’s with her son.  She was the passenger. After purchasing her coffee in the drive-thru, her son parked the car.  Stella placed the coffee between her legs while she took off the lid.  The 180 degree coffee spilled on her cotton pants absorbing it through the skin. The result was severe 3rd degree burns. Look up pictures and you will be shocked at the damage. The trial uncovered hundreds of past cases and proved that there was no reason to hold the coffee at that temperature. The jury decided to give Ms. Liebeck a few minutes of McDonald’s national coffee sales for her pain & suffering. That figure amounted to roughly $3 million dollars. The verdict was then lowered substantially by the judge; a power passed by the state legislature.

This power is being pushed into state’s civil justice systems across the country.  Furthermore, laws are being passed to limit the amount of money awarded in verdicts.  Corporate interests lobby politicians to enact these laws.  While tort reform is promoted as a way to reduce costs in industry and to the taxpayers, the facts show otherwise.  States where laws are in place to restrict medical malpractice lawsuits do not show any decrease in healthcare costs.  Juries must  have the ability to determine appropriate punishment and not rely on a judge for the aftermath.